In the final part of Brian Milne’s extensive examination of Britain’s involvement in the concept of unions, he talks about how despite the belief that most Britons were against any kind of European union, its seems that evidence is there to the contrary. He also talks about one of the founding fathers of European Union – Winston Churchill, and argues that the concept of Brexit would have been a abhorrent to the esteemed wartime leader.
Part three: Someone saw the sun going down and called for a new dawn.
Men of vision
How the UK has become so ‘allergic’ to the notion of European political union is rather contrary to its ability to place itself at the centre of an empire, a body that is not entirely without structural comparison with what the EU has become. Somehow or other, Englishmen particularly harboured concepts of peace through unity. We have already seen Thomas Paine’s contribution to the birth of the USA and one of his own influences was John Locke whose contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory were an intrinsic part of the thought behind the United States Declaration of Independence. Although other people from other countries had similar ideas, Locke was often part of their inspiration, along with Paine.
It was not the first time the idea was floated but Englishman William Penn, the Quaker founder of the Pennsylvania colony in what is now the USA, wrote on the establishment of a ‘European Dyet, Parliament or Estates’ in his book An Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe written in 1693. His proposal was an international organisation that had a form of common governance that was intended to prevent war in Europe by arbitrating disputes. Many of those disputes originated in the clamber for territories around the world in which to set up trading posts then extend influence and ultimately building large empires that saw competition expand into conflict.
The historian of Napoleon Bonaparte, Felix Markham, wrote in his book Napoleon, published in 1966, how during a conversation on St Helena, Bonaparte was recorded as having said: “Europe thus divided into nationalities freely formed and free internally, peace between states would have become easier: the United States of Europe would become a possibility.” The phrase ‘États-Unis d’Europe’ was used by Victor Hugo during a speech at the International Peace Congress Paris during 1849, whereby he suggested the creation of “…a supreme, sovereign senate, which will be to Europe what parliament is to England.” Furthermore, he floated the notion that “A day will come when all nations on our continent will form a European brotherhood” and “A day will come when we shall see the United States of America and the United States of Europe face to face, reaching out for each other across the seas.” Whilst in exile on Guernsey, he planted a tree in the grounds of his residence and said that when that tree matured the United States of Europe would have been formed. That tree still stands in those grounds; it is mature but his vision unfulfilled.
Leon Trotsky predicted a ‘Federated Republic of Europe – the United States of Europe’ that would be created by the proletariat before the Russian Revolution began. The First Pan-European Congress in Vienna in 1926 floated the notion of a politically unified Europe in the wake of World War I. Then in 1929, Aristide Briand, French Prime Minister, delivered a speech to the Assembly of the League of Nations in which he proposed a federation of European nations on the basis of peace, solidarity, economic prosperity with political and social cooperation. A number of intellectuals, especially economists such as John Maynard Keynes, supported his idea for economic reasons alone. Briand went on to write a Memorandum on the organisation of a system of European Federal Union in 1930. Among these others, British civil servant Arthur Salter and French radical politician Édouard Herriot who served three terms as Prime Minister, both wrote books bearing the title The United States of Europe that were published in 1931.
The pilgrim who attempted to convince the lion to stop roaring
It was in 1930, that Winston Churchill first said that a ‘European Union’ was possible in an interview published by the American journal The Saturday Evening Post. Today there is a great deal of debate given that he also said that “We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not compromised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.” However, the great hero of the contemporary mainstream right who is often considered the greatest UK politician ever was yet to develop his idea. Churchill was a prolific writer whose essays, articles and books included highly detailed histories including his four volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples that examined the entire period from Caesar’s invasions in 55 BC up to the beginning of World War I in 1914. His work was good enough to earn him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. For such detailed work he must have been a prolific reader. His knowledge of topics that were of interest to him are likely to have included the work of political theorist and European federalist Altiero Spinelli who is referred to as one of the founding fathers of the European Union. This reputation is due to his co-authorship of the Ventotene Manifesto under the title Per un’Europa libera e unita with fellow anti-fascist Ernesto Rossi that was written during internment in Italy in 1941.
Spinelli was later to have a founding role in the European federalist movement, exerted great influence during the decades immediately following World War II as European integration began and his role in reviving interest in the process of integration in the 1980s. By the time he died in 1986 he had been a member of the European Commission for six years and a member of the European Parliament for ten years until his death.
The Ventotene Manifesto was available outside Italy by 1943, proposing the creation of a European federation of states with the primary aim of tying European states together so closely politically and economically that it would no longer be possible for them to go to war with one another. It is almost certain Churchill will have read the manifesto since what he began to say after the war reflected a version of the very same ideas. He was most certainly well acquainted with Locke and Paine, and it must be borne in mind that he was a half US citizen through his mother Lady Randolph Churchill, née Jennie Jerome, the daughter of American millionaire Leonard Jerome, thus very conversant with the notion of unions of states.
Franglaterre or Englance?
In June 1940 he made a ‘Declaration of Union’ between the UK and France with the full backing of his cabinet. He said: “The two governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations, but one Franco-British Union… Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain; every British subject will become a citizen of France.”
Jean Monnet of the French Economic Mission in London became the head of the Anglo-French Coordinating Committee, which coordinated joint planning of the two countries’ wartime economies at the end of 1939. Monnet hoped for a post-war United States of Europe and saw an Anglo-French political union as a step in that direction. He discussed the idea with Neville Chamberlain, Churchill’s assistant and other British officials. When Germany invaded France in 1940 the draft ‘Franco-British Union’ proposal was written in the hope that it would help French Prime Minister Reynaud persuade his cabinet to continue the war from North Africa. Reynaud’s supporter Charles de Gaulle went to London where Monnet told him about the proposed union. De Gaulle then persuaded Churchill that some kind of drastic action was essential to keep France in the war. He called Reynaud and told him of the proposed a union between their countries, which Reynaud immediately supported. De Gaulle, Monnet, British diplomat Robert Vansittart and Monnet’s deputy René Pleven quickly agreed to a document proclaiming a joint citizenship, foreign trade, a single currency, war cabinet and joint military command. The proposal died when Philippe Pétain spoke out against it and when he eventually became Prime Minister, he then asked Germany for the terms of an armistice.
There had even been an Anglo-French postage stamp designed to mark the proposed union until the Nazi invasion of France brought it down. His proposals nonetheless demonstrate that Churchill was in favour of political union between European countries and that the UK was a central part of that plan.
In 1950 French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed a European union, which in 1951 became the Treaty of Paris that was signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany, creating the European Coal and Steel Community. It was based on supra-nationalism and international law, designed to support the economy of Europe and prevent future war through the integration of its members.
The Anglo-French merger idea was to rise again when during 1956 during the Suez Crisis an Anglo-French Task Force was created to fight the Egyptians to retain control of the Suez Canal. French Prime Minister Guy Mollet proposed a union between the UK and the France with one head of state and a common citizenship and an alternative that France would join the Commonwealth. British Prime Minister Anthony Eden was against either option and thus France went on to join the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community and strengthened the Franco-German cooperation.
De Gaulle, resistance fighter against stalking horses
However, despite being one of the heads of state who created what has become the EU, de Gaulle stood hard against UK membership on the basis of suggesting they would simply be a stalking horse for USA in Europe; he also more or less dictated which countries could join until his death. Hence, although Robert Schuman’s idea of a union was forged whilst he was foreign minister under the presidency of Vincent Auriol, by the time negotiations for expanded membership began, de Gaulle was president for 10 years from 1959 and vetoed everything he did not want for France, including renewed interest in the direct union between France and the UK. This was the same de Gaulle who had supported the 1940 attempt to unify France and the UK. Something changed, perhaps relations soured during de Gaulle’s exile in England, possibly with Churchill personally or maybe he saw the UK and USA becoming closer than he found comfortable for France. He is long dead; it is likely we shall never know exactly. After his presidency ended in 1969 and his death a year later in 1970, the EEC was able to expand but cautiously as though still under his discerning gaze.
But back to Churchill.
Visions of a united, peaceful Europe
After the first British victory of World War II, which was at El Alamein in 1942, Churchill wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden: “Hard as it is to say now I look forward to a United States of Europe, in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible.” Once the war was finished, in a now famous Zurich speech in 1946, Churchill said, “We must build a kind of United States of Europe… The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important… If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join the Union, we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and those who can.” During 1947, a few months after the Zurich speech, he spoke as chairman and founder of the United Europe Movement at the Albert Hall in London to ‘present the idea of a United Europe in which our country will play a decisive part..’ He argued that the UK and France should be the “founder-partners in this movement”, furthermore that “Britain will have to play her full part as a member of the European family.” Again in 1948 in the opening speech to the Congress of Europe in Holland, he said that the drive towards a United Europe “should be a movement of the people, not parties”. He also proposed a European ‘Charter’ and ‘Court’ of Human Rights, thus continued to say “We aim at the eventual participation of all the peoples throughout the continent whose society and way of life are in accord with the Charter of Human Rights.” He took it a step further to proclaim: “We cannot aim at anything less than the Union of Europe as a whole, and we look forward with confidence to the day when that Union will be achieved.” Then he took one step even further by saying: “We must endeavour by patience and faithful service to prepare for the day when there will be an effective world government resting on the main groupings of mankind.”
Later during 1948 in Llandudno he said that Britain held a unique position at the heart of ‘three majestic circles’: the ‘Empire and Commonwealth’, ‘the English speaking world’ and a ‘United Europe’ at a Conservative Mass Meeting. He described them as ‘co-existent’ and ‘linked together’. He said, “We are the only country which has a great part in every one of them. We stand, in fact, at the very point of junction, and here in this island at the centre of the seaways and perhaps of the airways also, we have the opportunity of joining them all together.”
The following year, 1949, at the first meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Churchill delivered his speech in French, which translates as: “We are reunited here, in this new Assembly, not as representatives of our several countries or various political parties, but as Europeans forging ahead, hand in hand, and if necessary elbow to elbow, to restore the former glories of Europe… ‘There is no reason for us not to succeed in achieving our goal and laying the foundation of a United Europe. A Europe whose moral design will win the respect and acknowledgement of all humanity, and whose physical strength will be such that no person will dare to disturb it as it marches peacefully towards the future.”
The Council of Europe was a brainchild of Churchill, as to the European Convention on Human Rights under its auspices. The intent of both was to primarily prevent wars in Europe but also the oppressions and persecutions that occurred before WWII that he believed should never again be seen on that continent, as well as by example and extension elsewhere in the world. It was a step toward a united Europe.
During 1949 he addressed the European Movement in London, saying: “The British Government have rightly stated that they cannot commit this country to entering any European Union without the agreement of the other members of the British Commonwealth. We all agree with that statement. But no time must be lost in discussing the question with the Dominions and seeking to convince them that their interests as well as ours lie in a United Europe.” He went on to say: “The French Foreign Minister, Mr Schuman, declared in the French Parliament this week that, ‘Without Britain there can be no Europe.’ This is entirely true. But our friends on the Continent need have no misgivings. Britain is an integral part of Europe, and we mean to play our part in the revival of her prosperity and greatness.” The next year, 1950, he called for the creation of a European Army under a unified command, “in which we should all bear a worthy and honourable part.” France objected to this plan, which is ironic when we consider 1956 and Suez.
Just who did he mean?
In nearly all of his speeches, Churchill said ‘we’ rather than ‘they’ must create a United States of Europe; similarly ‘we’ aim at the eventual participation of the peoples of Europe rather than ‘they’; ‘we’ must assemble and combine countries to join the Union of Europe but not ‘they’ and that ‘we’ should create a European army; not ‘they’ It is beyond all doubt that Churchill wanted the UK to be at the centre of the unification of Europe. He saw a united Europe as also a buffer against the ongoing disintegration of the commonwealth because it was not, as some people insist, that he wanted a united Europe and British Empire comfortably coexisting indefinitely but that he wanted a future for the UK in a leading role in a new and united Europe that would stand stronger against the ambitions of the USSR and, to some extent, the expansionism of the USA that people now tend to overlook. His vision was not of a monolithic state with a president at its head but a collective of monarchies and republics that shared armies, navies and developed their industrial and trading capacities together. He had seen the Irish rise up against British rule from 1919-21, the Amritsar massacre in 1919 that led to the non-cooperation movement that refused to accept British laws until in 1935 the Government of India Act gave them control of everything except foreign policy, leading to India and Pakistan were given their independence in 1947. The Balfour Declaration had made Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa independent in 1926 although they remained members of the commonwealth. The empire was bit by bit dismantled before his eyes. His vision turned to Europe and the UK’s future. Consequently, the EU lists Sir Winston Churchill as one of its ‘eleven founding fathers’.
Churchill himself, was a rabid Tory and a nasty bit of work who was racist and snobbish, treated most people as not remotely equal to him (including royalty and other national leaders) and had a total disdain for the ‘common people’. That was the private pig of a man. Politically he was probably one of the sharpest minds in all of English history and thus no wonder Thatcher idolised his memory and knew his European vision very well. Thus, how any right wing Tory can raise his or her head and proclaim the greatness of Churchill as a patriot they admire so much when they are undermining much of what he stood for is laughable. It shows their intense distaste for real history and rejection of all they do not want to hear, thus throwing out democracy as they proclaim it with their own bathwater. Churchill was never a ‘little Englander’; he promoted and supported a ‘kind of’ United States of Europe, in which the UK would play a key role in helping to create, but also had a future vision of world government. In reference to the 1946 call for a ‘United States of Europe’, an article written by Edward Heath for The Independent in 1996, he said: “I readily accept that at that time Churchill did not envisage Britain being a full member of this united Europe, but in gleefully seizing upon this point, Euro-sceptics have misunderstood or misrepresented the nature of Churchill’s attitude to full British participation in Europe. This reluctance was based on circumstance; it was not opposition based on principle. And the circumstances have changed in such a way that I am sure Churchill would now favour a policy that enabled Britain to be at the heart of the European Union.” He went on to say: “Churchill would be the first to realise that in the world today, where an isolated Britain would be dwarfed by five great powers, the United States, Russia, China, Japan and the European Union, Britain’s full participation in the European Union is vital, both for Britain and the rest of the world.” Heath also wrote that, “I knew Winston Churchill, I worked with him, I stayed with him at his home, and I have read his speeches many times. I can assure you that Winston Churchill was no Eurosceptic.”
In, but never fulfilling Churchill’s vision
Churchill therefore not only passionately believed in an ever closer union of European nations, but one in which the UK had a leading role, eventually becoming a kind of world government. He was, at the least, a confederalist, but one could also argue, even a ‘kind of’ federalist. He was notorious for changing views according to circumstances. He began his political career as a Conservative MP, resigned to become a Liberal MP, finally resigned from the Liberals to again be a Conservative MP. Although it would appear that he originally did not see the UK becoming a full member of a United States of Europe, it is equally clear his views changed as the empire and commonwealth’s influence around the world declined, taking the UK with it to a less prominent position. In his last speech about Europe in London during 1957, quite soon after the six founding nations had signed the Treaty of Rome, thus setting up the EEC, he said affirmatively that he welcomed the creation of a ‘common market’ by the six, provided that in time “the whole of free Europe will have access” and that “we genuinely wish to join”. He warned that: “If… the European trade community were to be permanently restricted to the six nations, the results might be worse than if nothing were done at all – worse for them as well as for us. It would tend not to unite Europe but to divide it – and not only in the economic field.” His was a vision of a political ‘union of nations’ which it seems few are now fully recognising or acknowledging. He did not live to see the UK joining the EEC in 1973, thus becoming part of a community at that time based on free trade between the countries of Europe, but already with a vision for ‘ever closer union’. In 1975 a referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the EEC received an overwhelming vote to stay in. No matter what people now say about only being in the ‘Common Market’, the Treaty of Rome was made available for people to see and understand the intent of the union to become ever closer politically as well as economically, it was never just a trading bloc. What Eurosceptics fail to acknowledge is Churchill’s profound passion for a determined political union of governments without it ever being a step into a fully federal state exactly like USA, which is still the vision of closer union today.
When he was asked if the UK should be prepared to part with any degree of national sovereignty for the sake of a larger fusion, he replied that: “We are prepared to consider and, if convinced, to accept the abrogation of national sovereignty, provided that we are satisfied with the conditions and the safeguards… national sovereignty is not inviolable, and it may be resolutely diminished for the sake of all men in all the lands finding their way home together.” Thus far sovereignty has never been abrogated, except in the minds of opponents of the EU. Churchill has been dead for over half a century, so it is more or less impossible to imagine, let alone know exactly, what he would think of the world as it is today and Brexit.
The present government might pay heed to something EU Commission president José Manuel Barroso said in 2013: “We need to show the same political courage and vision of Winston Churchill… He was a man of foresight with an acute sense of history, often ahead of prevailing opinion, never shying away from saying what some might choose to ignore.” At present the champions of Brexit who stand on the right and left of UK politics dare not evoke the memory of one ‘latter day saint’, Margaret Thatcher, who was an advocate and supporter of the European union but the hero of large parts of left, right and centre, the ‘greatest Englishman ever’, Churchill, was a visionary who knew enough to see where the UK belonged. In his capacity as an able historian, he would have known that from virtually the moment William I arrived at Hastings, England began a long line of conquests and rule over others. It never learned to share or be equal with other nations.
Allergy or allegory? The country that forced unions on everybody it could but could never be part of one
I began with the union of Wales, Ireland and Scotland, yet even the formal union of one of them, Ireland, was relatively short and bloody, and thus revealed an Achilles heel in English dominance. The American Revolution that effectively ended the first period of empire was another wound in the pride of the English mind and soul. The second and massive empire created a collective ego that has never declined with the independence of all but very few parts of the world controlled from Westminster that drives such people as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg to claim Churchill their hero but to forget to acknowledge his foresight, preferring misleading utterances of Nigel Farage whose party UKIP attracted controversy by using a picture of Churchill next to the words ‘Say No to European Union’ on European election posters and accusing Barroso of misrepresenting him as a supporter of European political union in 2013 when he urged the UK to embrace Churchill’s vision of a ‘United States of Europe’. Right winger and EU opponent John Redwood even demanded the BBC ‘apologise and publish a correction’ after historian Vernon Bogdanor suggested that Churchill was open to the idea of the UK joining a United States of Europe on Radio 4.
Symptoms of an English allergy to others
There are things we do not know. Had the UK joined the EEC when it was founded, without the objections of de Gaulle preventing that until 1973, what direction would it have taken? The UK would almost certainly have been at the heart of it development. Would it perhaps have moved even faster toward closer union or would that idea have faded into a notion consigned to history? Let us imagine it had followed a similar path to that we have seen, a single currency and freedom of movement that included the UK. One might guess that the City already being well established would have been the economic and financial centre, thus holding the purse strings. The experienced and able workforce may well have kept the UK at the heart of manufacturing alongside Germany. The history of the UK as a trading nation and remaining ties with its former empire would have contributed to European wealth. Instead, behind what has happened there is mistrust of Europeans, most of the EU has at some point in time been an enemy or serious rival or part of the Soviet Union or the bloc it more or less controlled, thus nominal enemies. In many ways the UK is unforgiving. Despite the Entente Cordiale more than a century ago, the UK does not trust France, the attempt to merge the two countries is mostly struck off all histories and at most it is a footnote. The UK has all but lost a great empire entirely and remaining members are gradually seeking full self-determination outside the commonwealth, which even opponents will often concede is only a question of time until influence ends. The UK has been part, indeed the centre, of a massive empire, a kind of union, of which it was the centre but it cannot be part of a union within which it could survive the twenty-first century. It prefers to allow itself to become a small, isolated country, in the fullness of time just England alone perhaps, that has no empire, just history, but has also turned its back on its best alternative. The kind of federal union the EU may become would have benefitted from the presence of a nation with the English history and experience at its heart, yet a confused ideology that is driving the UK away from that has seen even democracy undermined as an autocratic government attempts to accrue more powers for its cabinet, take voting rights from MPs and estrange the electorate in order to move in exactly the opposite direction to that its great hero believed in.
The bitter end
Thus, this three part story that looks at history through from the foundations of the contemporary UK, to its empires, to its opportunities. I have avoided the wars, there were many, out of which the UK has mostly come out undefeated, but never unscathed, if only sharing in victories and often thanks to allies that the ‘We won the war’ mind-set often denies. It was deliberately written to move on to Churchill because he wrote his history of the English speaking people until the beginning of World War I, then became the advocate of an opportunity the UK is now throwing away.
I deliberately say England as often as possible, since that is where the story begins and is likely to end. That is not prejudice, but because of the facts. I believe that in the fullness of time, if a little longer than a few impatient people wish to have it, Irish reunification and Scots independence will happen. Wales may or may not gain greater autonomy, independence probably unlikely, but then the regions of England may also demand and gain more self-rule rather than what they often say is imposition from Westminster.
The story began in 1066, the end is approaching. Europe is highly likely to move closer together, partly prompted by the lesson of Brexit. Those who support the EU are likely to be proven right in the close future. Eurosceptics will remain just what they are and hide behind their illusions of a new empire and history will move on with the UK on a closed page.